Abu Sayyaf presses on with attack on Army camp in Basilan
ZAMBOANGA CITY – Around 200 Abu Sayyaf bandits attacked the Army’s 18th Infantry Battalion headquarters in Ungkaya Pukan town in Basilan on Wednesday night.
The attack resumed Thursday morning, and continued as of this writing.
Former Ungkaya Pukan mayor Joel Maturan said the bandits, armed with 50 caliber rifles, positioned themselves in four hills surrounding Punoh Butigan in Barangay (village) Sungkayot where the 18th IB headquarters is located.
The army camp sits on a hill.
“They (Abu Sayyaf) seemed determined to get the headquarters,” Maturan said, adding that he and his rubber plantation workers would fight alongside the government soldiers.
He stressed that the Army headquarters in Ungkaya Pukan, not Tipo-Tipo town, was under attack. But he said there were “rumors that Tipo-Tipo will be the next so residents started to leave their homes.” The attack started at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, and ended at 2 a.m. Thursday. But fighting resumed at 7 a.m. Thursday.
“It’s on and off. I wonder why these bandits are not running out of ammunition and food,” Maturan said.
Superintendent Oscar Nantes, police chief for Basilan, said he has dispatched more police forces to Tipo-Tipo and Ungkaya Pukan to help the military.
He said the groups led by Puruji Indama and Isnilon Hapilon have merged, and have been leading the attack. “But we still cannot provide a clearer picture– if there were killed or wounded –because the firefight is on and off,” Nantes said.
At least 2,000 families from Ungkaya Pukan, Tipo-Tipo and Al Barka towns have been displaced, Nantes said.
There have been talks circulating that the bandits will attack the municipal hall and police station.
“That’s the reason why we have increased our men,” Nantes said.
As for casualties, Nantes said they have not received information of military or civilian deaths and injuries.
Maturan said the bandits on Thursday re-positioned themselves in Punog Alibasa, which covered parts of Tipo-Tipo, Baragay Sungkayot of Ungkaya Pukan, and Al Barka town.
“But the volley of their fires are landing on us in Sungkayot,” Maturan said, adding that more than 400 families in Sitio Santiyan in Sungkayot have already evacuated.
Former Tipo-tipo Mayor Tong Istarul said classes in all the eight elementary and high schools in his towns have been suspended.
“We were all caught by surprise. We were winding down our Eid (end of Ramadan) celebration when the attack happened,” Istarul said.
“Many families are displaced. Some cannot leave their homes to check what was happening. People are also afraid to move around,” Istarul said.
Maj. Filemon Tan, spokesperson of Western Mindanao Command, admitted that they were not fully updated on what was happening in Basilan.
“Our people on the ground are having difficulties sending updates because they are busy with the operations,” Tan said. SFM
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